Photo | Shervin Lainez
Band: Live & Acoustic Tour feat. Jason Mraz with Toca Rivera and special guest Gregory Page
Date: Wednesday, Dec. 1 with doors at 7 p.m.
Venue: Saenger Theatre, 6 S. Joachim St., asmglobalmobile.com
Tickets: $45-$95, available through Ticketmaster
Twenty years ago, singer-songwriter Jason Mraz independently released his debut album, “Live at Java Joe’s.” This album captured the early days of Mraz’s career in the very environment where he developed his music. Now, Mraz is releasing this album on vinyl under the title “Live & Acoustic” with a tour as support.
Though acoustic, Mraz will not be performing alone. Longtime collaborator Toca Rivera and fellow Java Joe’s alumnus Gregory Page will be on hand to help transport the crowd to the San Diego coffeehouse all three once called home.
As he was preparing to embark on this tour, Mraz took time to give Music Editor Steve Centanni a look inside this special album and the journey ahead of him.
Steve Centanni: I think the last time we spoke, you were on your tour in support of the “Mr. A-Z” album, which was a while ago. If you could go back to that time and give yourself a piece of advice, what would it be?
Jason Mraz: I would say, “Take it easy, kid! It’s all gonna be cool.” I think there were several years on this journey where I felt like there was pressure to hurry up and make something. You gotta claim this or that. Really, it’s just music, and nobody really cares about the other stuff. So, just relax and make great songs. I would tell my younger self, “Hey, man, just relax and make great songs. Nobody cares about the other stuff.”
Centanni: You’re going to be coming to Mobile on tour in support of the anniversary of your debut album, “Live at Java Joe’s,” under the name “Live & Acoustic.” I know you’ve been preparing for it. What’s it been like revisiting these songs?
Mraz: Oh, it’s been a blast! I’m surprised my mouth still remembers all the words, because these are some songs that have been put on the shelf for many, many years. It’s not your typical formulaic, big chorus type of songs. They’re story songs and poetry songs. Sometimes, the lyrics are a little odd. I love it, and I’m getting together with Toca Rivera, who was my partner back in those coffee shop days. Him singing harmonies and playing percussion is just a treat to think that here we are 20 years later still doing it and still can do it.
We’re also joined by Gregory Page, who was one of our heroes and mentors in the coffeehouse days. He’s out there with us on this tour singing some of his songs, and we back him up on a few of his tunes. So, it’s kind of like an old coffee shop reunion, which is all about the songs themselves, harmonies and the humor that comes out of the improvised banter, which is kind of what coffee shop life was like. It was a lot of laughs, and we’re having a lot of laughs putting this back together.
Centanni: As far as the lineup, you went from a 13-piece reggae band for the Good Live! Tour to that very special show in late September with the San Diego Symphony. Now, you’re down to an acoustic trio. What’s it been like making that shift?
Mraz: It’s the best. I love that I can do various incarnations. While doing the reggae show, if I were to think about doing the symphony show, then I would’ve been scared to death. While doing the symphony show, if I were to be thinking about doing the acoustic show, then I would be scared to death. Once I arrive there and get to the symphony and rehearse, I’m like, “Oh! I know how to do this!” It’s the same thing with the coffee shop boys. Once I get there, and we start rehearsing, it’s like, “Oh yeah! We know how to do this!” The shift is instantaneous, but it happens when you start doing the work. Then it’s great. I love that I can do a little of this and a little of that. After this coffee shop run with Toca, I’m going back in the studio with Raining Jane, and the five of us will make an album. It’ll be yet another different thing next year. So, I’m blessed that I get to mix it up. To look at it another way, I get to employ a lot of different, great musicians that have inspired me in my life. I get to reconnect with them over and over again and go out and do some work together.
Centanni: What’s your most vivid memory from those performances at Java Joe’s?
Mraz: I probably played that venue more than any other venue on the planet, because of how often I played there each week for a couple of years. Sometimes, we were living in Java Joe’s. About halfway through my run at Joe’s, I moved to L.A. to stay with a friend of mine to be closer to some opportunities. I still had my Java Joe’s gigs. I would drive back from L.A. and play my shows at Java’s, and we would all sleep in the booths. Java’s was a sports bar before it was his place. It had these sort of semi-circle booths for people to gather and sit and eat and listen and all. So, we would sleep in these crescent moon-shaped booths. I would have vivid dreams because the awkwardness of sleeping in that position would induce great dreams. We would wake up in the morning and you were still in a restaurant. You would wash your face in the sinks and go get coffee and set up and do another show. The real immersion into Java Joe’s is the memory for me. It was the friendship with Java and the baristas and the little community that we had down there playing sold-out shows every night.
Centanni: You included two unreleased tracks in the form of “Water” and “What We Want.” What made you go with these two songs?
Mraz: It was mainly the realization that we had more time on the LP. We were gonna celebrate the fact that the album is 20 years old and put it on vinyl. What we did is we said, “Wow, we still have 11 minutes or so to put on vinyl that we couldn’t put on CD.” So, we dug through the recordings and realized that we had many more songs from that weekend, but I chose two. One I thought was beautiful was called “What We Want” and another one was written on a rooftop in New York City in 1995 with my friend Billy Galewood [Bushwalla], which was a song called “Water,” which was more of an improv of looking at the skyscrapers and seeing all these different lives and being immersed in your emotions. It’s another poetry song that really doesn’t go anywhere but drifts off for a while, but I wanted to include my friend Billy because he wrote “Water” with me. I really liked that I could include one of our songs together. I also wanted to treat fans who have listened to this album for 20 years and give them a little more than what we previously offered.
Centanni: As far as the live show and the songs from “Live at Java Joe’s,” will it be more straightforward, or are you going to let them breathe in the live environment?
Mraz: It’ll be a whole lot of breathing and still a whole lot of improvisation. We were joking in rehearsal last night that we might just “Grateful Dead” the endings. We won’t have a rehearsed way of stopping, and it might inform what song might be coming next and weave them all together. There will be a lot of breathing going on, and we’ll still make sure to be playing some of my more popular tunes. I’m sure that there will be some audience members who have never heard the coffeehouse stuff and just want to hear their wedding/anniversary song. We’re still going to breathe life in the new tunes as well.
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